King of the Keyboards: Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC)

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senior citizen in MD“April in Paris,” shouts a silvered-haired woman, as she happily reaches out to claim her chocolate prize. This cheerful game of “Name that Tune” takes place once a week in the spacious activity room at Brooke Grove Retirement Village, a continuing care retirement community in Sandy Spring, MD.

Over the clink of coffee cups and the excited chatter of the gathering residents, you can hear Lou Jones warming up on the beautiful Grand Piano while casually chatting with the residents. As he starts to play, feet start tapping and faces erupt in smiles. Others sway gently to the music and stare dreamily out the large windows-transported by the music. The mood has been set for “Lou’s Coffee Lounge.”

“I spend my life on a keyboard; I’m always on one keyboard or another,” jokes Lou Jones, referring to the piano keyboard and the computer keyboard. A former IBM executive and a professional piano player, Lou has found that the “hours just fly by” whenever he can get his hands on one of those keyboards.

After graduating from Morgan State University, Lou started working as a programmer for Westinghouse. He later spent 27 years with IBM, 17 of them as an executive. For IBM, he managed several software development contracts and some marketing efforts.

Even though he found his work fulfilling, Lou looked forward to trying his hand at new business ventures after retiring. He certainly diversified his experience, first becoming the owner of a Laundromat and later a licensed realtor. In 1990, he decided to pursue what had always been a hobby and passion for him–playing the piano. He started looking for work in the area and quickly found that his talent was in demand. “I was having such good fortune playing; it really happened out of the blue. People started coming to me and asking me if I wanted to play in this club or that club,” Lou remembers. He now plays throughout the region, including a long-term engagement with the Congressional Country Club, where he plays weekly.

Lou was so pleased with his success that he decided to find a way to give back to the community. While driving to work one day, he noticed Brooke Grove Retirement Village and had an idea. Lou explains, “I had heard that music is good for Alzheimer’s patients, and I began to think that the residents at Brooke Grove might benefit from my playing. I offered to come down and play for them, and they took me up on it. I’ve been here ever since.” According to Eileen Alexander, music therapist and Executive Director of Independent Living, Lou is absolutely correct: “Music is a powerful medium for all of us. For our residents, familiar music feeds the reminiscing soul, provides a catalyst for song and dance, and creates a comfortable backdrop for new and old relationships to blossom. All of these wonderful things are happening at Lou’s Coffee Lounge!”

From the beginning, the residents and the administrators at Brooke Grove were thrilled with Lou’s talent and dedication. Eileen acknowledges, “I was amazed at his talent, and his personality was such a draw because he interacted with the residents with such ease. When he offered to come in once a week, it was a dream come true. We quickly established “Lou’s Coffee Lounge” in our main activity room. Freshly brewed coffee is served. Lou does is magic at the Grand Piano accompanied by his friend, Joe Hebert, on the harmonica. Joe, a former dance instructor, has even taught me to ballroom dance! Both the residents and I enjoy the chance to dance with Joe to Lou’s fine music.” Any of the residents will tell you that “Lou’s Coffee Lounge” has now become a weekly ritual. It is a time for the nursing home residents to gather and do something they might have done outside of the community.

Grateful to have such an attentive audience, Lou is awed by the influence of his music on the residents. He recounts, “I saw one man who hadn’t spoken in a month or more, who started to really get into the music and interact. I knew then how very powerful this could be for the residents. It just seems to bring them out and get them doing things they don’t normally do.”

In fact, the popularity of “Lou’s Coffee Lounge” has led the administrators of Brooke Grove’s new Independent Living to consider activities for their residents involving Lou. Eileen, Lou, and Joe have discussed organizing a dinner night with ballroom dancing instruction for the new residents. Lou, who is already involved in the project, recently played for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new construction. The expansion includes 10 new villas and a new community center currently under construction, with 12 additional villas to follow. The first new Independent Living residents will move in Spring 2004, and everyone in the community is excited about entering this new phase in their development.

As the Director of the new Independent Living, Eileen has been delighted with the opportunity to watch the community grow and prosper: “Brooke Grove has 50 plus years of history providing quality care for seniors, and we are well-known and respected in the community. By adding independent living to the continuum of services available on campus, we are inviting people to choose our village as their new home and discover the pleasures of living in a pastoral, country setting. We want our new residents to understand our commitment to empowering them to live life to its fullest here at Brooke Grove!”

An honorary member of the Brooke Grove family, Lou is also excited about the project because “it will keep people from having to make another transition in life. Moving is so hard, but the independent living option will ensure that seniors will only have to move once.” Independent living residents will experience all of the benefits of the 220-acre wooded campus and will have the security of knowing that the assisted living or nursing care they may need will be provided to them on campus. From Lou’s perspective, one of the most attractive aspects of the independent living option is the opportunity for people to own their own cottages.

When asked if he has plans to move to the new independent living himself, Lou laughs, but explains, “It is a very tempting idea, and I’ve been thinking about downsizing from our four bedroom home for the last five years. When a house gets over 20 years old, you start to feel like you are constantly doing upkeep. Right now, my wife and I have not come to any decision about moving. If and when we do, Brooke Grove would be my first choice.” Through his experiences at Brooke Grove, Lou has really gained an appreciation for the benefits of retirement living communities. He is thrilled to see the campus growing and the options available to Brooke Grove residents expanding.

While Lou has no definite plans to move, he certainly plans to continue his association with Brooke Grove, which has been so beneficial to the residents and so inspiring to him. In fact, in acknowledgment of the therapeutic and social value of “Lou’s Coffee Lounge,” the residents’ families and community members raised $15, 000 towards the purchase of a new Yamaha Grand Piano, which the Brooke Grove Foundation matched.

Lou loves playing the beautiful instrument and unassumingly ascribes the residents’ response to his playing as a product of the quality instrument and the music itself. “I use fake sheets for my music, which might be considered a high level music language, as opposed to the basic music, because it just shows you the melody line and above that there are only chord symbols. This type of music gives you enormous flexibility,” Lou explains. Judging by the response of the residents and staff at Brook Grove, Lou Jones is an accomplished translator of this multifaceted language. There are certainly no language barriers in “Lou’s Coffee Lounge.”

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